The Top 7 Games that broadened our musical horizons

A celebration of the franchises that turned us on to new sounds

2. Bioshock/Bioshock 2

Broadened the horizons of: Charlie Barratt, senior reviews and previews editor

BioShock broadened more than my musical horizons. By the time I’d finished playing, reviewing, discussing, analyzing and reading every random Wikipedia page even vaguely related to the themes of the 2007 original, I’d absorbed almost as much information about philosophy, psychology and politics as I had during four years of college. The songs, though, stayed in my consciousness far longer than the ramblings of Ayn Rand.

Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Cole Porter, Rosemary Clooney. These were the artists my grandparents listened to during and after World War II, the voices now relegated to shopping malls at Christmastime, so hearing them used to relevant and haunting effect in a 21st century videogame was pretty special. And knowing that generations even younger than mine were being introduced to this timeless music was really special.

Then the sequel elevated my education to a whole new level – I was at least familiar with the names listed above, but had to use a phone app to recognize Ruth Etting (“Ten Cents a Dance”), Artie Shaw (“Nightmare”) and Red McKenzie (“The Trouble With Me is You”) during BioShock 2’s load screens. These once legendary musicians, eventually faded and forgotten by most, are now in regular rotation on my iTunes library. All thanks to a game.

1. Grand Theft Auto (series)

Broadened the horizons of: Mikel Reparaz

Music has always been a cornerstone of the Grand Theft Auto experience, whether we’re talking about the 2D original (in which the “radio stations” amounted to little more than lengthy CD audio tracks like this one) or the 23 distinct radio stations in GTA IV, with their hours of licensed music and chat. With that kind of variety, anyone with anything but the most diverse and eclectic musical tastes is going to be exposed to something they haven’t listened to before, whether it’s Cuban dance music, hip-hop or hardcore punk. And with Rockstar’s tastemakers selecting the tracks, odds are they’re going to hear something they like.

Above: Be honest, now – how many of you had even heard of Ruslana before her appearance in GTA IV? (Or since, for that matter?)

For my part, the game was San Andreas, and the genre was country. I never liked country before San Andreas. Having been raised in a suburban hicktown, I learned to loathe “redneck music” from an early age; you couldn’t breakdance to it, it seemed intrinsically lame next to the stuff on MTV, and it was popular with all the idiots I hated. I quickly developed the ability to tune it out (or just throw fits whenever anyone insisted on listening to it).

Ironically enough, it was GTA’s most gangsta-fied entry that finally punched through my blind hatred, as K-ROSE spun ridiculously catchy tracks that were not only fun to listen to, but proved to be the best imaginable music for bombing across San Andreas’ extensive wilderness areas and back roads.

It doesn’t end there, either; just about every game in the series has either clued me in to some genre I thought I was completely disinterested in (like ‘80s synth-pop in Vice City, or opera in GTA III), or introduced me to some song I’d never heard before, like Asha Bhosle’s psychedelic “Dum Maro Dum” (“Take Another Toke”) in Liberty City Stories.

GTA’s strength isn’t just its relatively vast catalog of music, though; it’s the choice. Where other games tend to force us to listen to new music, or include it in a semi-mandatory playlist that we have to work through to reach other, more familiar songs, GTA (and really, any other franchise that features multiple radio stations) tends to just put it there for players to listen to through their own volition, usually after they’re bored of hearing familiar tracks some 10 hours into a new game. The songs are there for you to discover, and if you come away liking them, it’s because you really liked them, not just because they drilled their way into your head through repetition.

Well, probably that too.

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